Before subdued second and third periods, the Alaska Aces' 5-1 victory over the Allen Americans on Wednesday night was so filled with fireworks that the vibe was combustible long before the opening drop of the puck in the ECHL hockey game.
Disagreements started in warm-ups — the teams conducted a 36-man meet-and-greet, mostly consisting of chirping, along the red line — and continued throughout a first period that included three fights, a major penalty and ejection for spearing (Aces winger David Eddy), and 71 combined penalty minutes.
So explosive was the early going that nearly six minutes into the match at Sullivan Arena each team had generated more fighting majors (two) than shots on goal (one).
Fittingly, a scrum punctuated period's end, with yet another scrap, and a pair of double-minor penalties, one to each side.
Wednesday's game was merely the first in a three-game set that continues Friday night and didn't immediately shape up as Friendship Series between the last two Kelly Cup champions — Allen seized the crown last spring after the Aces won the third Cup in franchise history in 2014.
A cease-fire of sorts took place following the first period. After that, only 14 combined penalty minutes were whistled, and all were for minor infractions.
What mattered most to the Aces (18-24-5), who are desperately trying to avoid a second straight season of missing the Kelly Cup playoffs, was snapping a two-game losing streak and earning two points.
The Aces remained 11th in the 14-team Western Conference. Only eight conference teams make the playoffs and the Aces are eight points out of playoff position with 25 games left in the regular season.
"We played a desperate game, that's for sure, and the guys were up for it,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray.
Alaska seldom spent extended periods in its own zone and often spent long stretch in Allen's zone.
Allen (28-17-3) had its three-game winning streak snapped.
Rookie defenseman Mitch Jones led Alaska's offensive outburst with his first multiple-point game as a pro — he scored one goal and assisted on two. Jones' five goals in 18 games leads current Aces defenseman and trails only Gleason Fournier, who bagged eight goals in 27 games before he bolted for the Great Britain-based Elite Ice Hockey League.
The Aces also received two goals from Peter Sivak and single markers from Ryan Tesink and Collin Valcourt. Troy Redmann repelled 22 shots.
Alaska jumped to a 2-0 first-period lead and pushed its cushion to 4-0 inside the first five minutes of the second period to chase Allen starter Joel Rumpel before he faced double-digit shots. The Aces pierced him four times on nine shots.
That proved the fastest 4-0 lead the Aces have delivered this season — primarily because it is only the second time in 47 games they have led 4-0.
Jones opened the scoring with a dart from the left face-off dot about seven minutes into the game and Sivak scored later in the first period after a ghastly turnover by Allen.
Tesink struck less than three minutes into the second period and Valcourt followed about two minutes later with a wrister from the left circle that pushed Alaska's lead to 4-0.
The Americans finally cracked Redmann 90 seconds into the third period, and the strike came from the most likely suspect. League-leading scorer Chad Costello rifled a bullet from the left dot over Redmann's glove for his 65th point in 48 games. Costello, who led the league in scoring by a league-record 45 points last season, has merely scored 190 points in 120 games the last two seasons.
But Sivak restored the Aces' four-goal cushion with 90 seconds left in the game. Since rejoining the Aces in a trade, Sivak, who helped the Aces to the 2014 Cup, owns 9-20—29 totals in 26 games.
Shuffling the deck
Aces captain William Wrenn, with an assist on Valcourt's goal, moved into a tie for the league scoring lead among defensemen. Wrenn owns 4-30—34 totals in 46 games, tying him with Reading's Adam Comrie (15-19—34 in 39 games).
Valcourt and winger Garet Hunt returned to the lineup following suspensions, and each contributed, Valcourt with a goal and Hunt with an assist.
Allen 0 0 1 — 1
Aces 2 2 1 — 5
First Period — 1, Aces, Jones 5 (Deluca, Eddy), 6:49; 2, Aces, Sivak 10, 13:28. Penalties — Vandane, Aces (roughing), 1:52; Hanson, Allen (slashing), 1:52; Lake, Aces, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 3:36; Makowski, Allen double minor-major, served by Arseneau (roughing, instigator, fighting), 3:36; Hunt, Aces, major (fighting), 5:55; Courtnall, Allen, major (fighting), 5:55; Valcourt, Aces, double-minor, served by Deluca (cross-checking, roughing), 8:10; Arseneau, Allen (interference), 8:10; Gunn, Allen (tripping), 11:40; Eddy, Aces, major-game misconduct (spearing), 12:01; Lake, Aces, major (fighting), 20:00; Makowski, Allen, major (fighting), 20:00; Deluca, Aces, double-minor (roughing), 20:00; Hanson, Allen, double-minor (elbowing, roughing), 20:00.
Second Period — 3, Aces, Tesink 8 (Hunt, Jones), 2:38; 4, Aces, Valcourt 9 (Jones, Wrenn), 4:53. Penalties — Perfetto, Aces (hooking), 19:28.
Third Period — 5, Allen, Costello 19 (Steffes, Pierro-Zabotel), 1:30; 6, Aces, Sivak 11 (Tesink), 18:31. Penalties — Johnston, Aces (slashing), 3:54; Federico, Allen (delay of game-puck over glass), 16:01; Traversa, Aces, double-minor (roughing), 18:43; Courtnall, Allen, double-minor (roughing), 18:43; Gens, Allen (tripping), 18:43.
Shots on goal — Allen 9-7-7—23. Aces 6-6-14—26.
Power-play Opportunities — Allen 0 of 4. Aces 0 of 4.
Goalies — Allen, Rumpel, (17-8-2) (9 shots-5 saves); Di Salvo, enter 4:53 2nd period (17-16). Aces, Redmann, (14-17-4) (23-22).
A — 2,445. T — 2:31.
Referee — Tyler Puddifant. Linesmen ?— Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.